New label from 27-year-old Brooklyn native celebrates Jewish music

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New York Jewish Week via JTA — Loyal listeners of “Borscht Beat” — a weekly FM radio show featuring Jewish music, old and new — will be delighted to hear about host Aaron Bendich’s latest project: a new Jewish record company of the same name.

On his hour-long radio show, the 27-year-old plays a wide variety of Jewish recordings – songs from the heyday of Yiddish theater, as well as a mix of contemporary klezmer, Yiddish and world Jewish music whole.

Earlier this month, Bendich’s label announced its first release: the band’s second album Forshpil, which Bendich describes as “psychedelic Yiddish rock fusion”.

Bendich acknowledges that people’s feelings about Jewish music are rooted in nostalgia – just like their feelings about physical albums (records, CDs, cassettes). He acknowledges that sometimes it feels like pressure to bring back memories that many listeners didn’t know they had.

But Bendich tells The New York Jewish Week that he prefers to present Borscht Beat as the continuation of a tradition, rather than simply reviving one.

“It helped me feel like I wasn’t alone in this, I’m not trying to resurrect something – I’m just participating in the culture like people have been doing for a long time,” he said. .

“Jewish culture, Yiddish culture and klezmer music are still a living culture,” Bendich added. “Of course, with the Holocaust and assimilation, things have changed the way or the amount of culture that is created, but there is continuity. There has never been a gap. »

Bendich’s passion for Jewish music is something that has been passed down from generation to generation. Her grandfather, Max — who lived in the Bronx and died in December 2020 at the age of 105 — was also a collector of Jewish documents.

Bendich started the radio show Borscht Beat from his Bed-Stuy apartment in November 2020, when the Vassar College radio station recruited alumni to fill the airtime. Since then, he’s built a larger community of listeners and expanded to three additional radio stations – WJFF Catskill, WVKR Poughkeepsie and WCFA Cape May – while working his day job for Digital Media Rights, a distributor of movies in Manhattan.

Aaron Bendich launched Borscht Beat, a radio show that plays Yiddish and Jewish music — both contemporary songs and throwbacks — in November 2020. Now he’s launching a record label of the same name. (Illustration by Hanna Sheehan/via JTA)

The weekly Jewish music hour is still going strong, and Bendich has no plans of stopping anytime soon. In recent broadcasts, he performed “More! Sing in Yiddish! by Marv Kurz, an album of popular classic Yiddish and Hebrew songs; interviewed klezmer clarinetist Michael Winograd; and performed the songs and monologues of Yiddish theater icon Noah Nachbush – all from his private collection.

“I love pulling stuff from the collection and sharing it with my listeners,” he said. “I love bringing music into people’s lives that they heard a long time ago and in many cases haven’t heard since.”

The success of the Borscht Beat radio show – which he said garnered hundreds of emails from fans and dozens of calls from listeners – helped him believe that a new Jewish label could be a success. Bendich also experienced, firsthand, the unwavering enthusiasm of New York’s klezmer community throughout the pandemic: During the long months of quarantine, Bendich attended many high-energy outdoor klezmer concerts, and even to a 24-hour klezmer session on Zoom hosted by Yiddish New York in late 2021.

Starting a record label “is kind of the next logical step,” Bendich said. “I was interested in finding a way to get more involved on the active side of what’s happening in the Jewish music scene right now, whether it’s producing or releasing music.”

After talking with several friends and musicians, Bendich decided that his label’s first release would be a CD of an album by Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist Ilya Shneyveys. The two had met at klezmer picnics hosted by Shneyveys in Prospect Park during the height of the pandemic.

The group, Forshpil, is composed of Shneyveys, the instrumental leader, and singer Sasha Lurje, both immigrants from Latvia. Forshpil, a Yiddish term usually translated as “prelude”, also refers to a type of musical performance that is given for a bride before a wedding. Bendich describes their music as a mix of Old World and New: it’s “psychedelic hard rock mixed with folk songs mixed with klezmer elements”.

Bendich hopes to work with other Yiddish bands and singers to bring their music to the world.

“Most record labels won’t release specifically Jewish music unless it’s already popular. Jewish record labels that curate a distinct type of ethnic fare are an absolute necessity,” said academic adviser Eddy Portnoy. and Curator of Exhibitions at YIVO, New York. Jewish week. “They’ve been around for a long time and have brought us all kinds of material, from comedy to cantor and everything in between.”

“Small Jewish record companies launched the careers of popular artists like Allan Sherman and Matisyahu,” he added. “We might never have heard of them without these independent labels. It is therefore a good sign of cultural effervescence that new ones arise.

Jon Madof, co-founder of Chant Records and bandleader of Zion80, a 10-piece band that combines Jewish music, Afrobeat and avant-garde jazz, is also hoping for a new Jewish label on the scene.

“While it can be difficult to navigate the new musical landscape, I am sure their artistry and dedication will serve them well as they will help bring Jewish and Yiddish music firmly into the 21st century,” did he declare. (Madof is also chief technology officer at 70 Faces Media, the parent company of New York Jewish Week.)

The Forshpil CD was released with a 24-page booklet which will include original Yiddish lyrics, transliterations and English translations. The psychedelic artwork is by Avia Moore; Michael Wex, author of “Born To Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods” wrote an introductory essay.

Looking ahead, Bendich said he was excited to be able to add to the world’s collection of Jewish documents — something that has been such a big part of his life.

“Just to imagine that one day someone will be looking for a record in a record store and come across something that I put out… I love that idea,” he said. “It’s very exciting. I’m doing it for the sake of the ethnic culture, the cultural heritage that I’m so proud of and involved in.

The album is live on https://borschtbeat.bandcamp.com/releasesand Bendich’s radio show airs Sundays at 1 p.m. EST on radio Catskill.

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